Bishop Fellay on Summorum Pontificum:
“a very significant historical event”
Pope Benedict Affirms Cardinal Castrillón Interviews: SSPX within the Church

Brian Mershon

A Remnant Exclusive Interview

Ecône, Switzerland—Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), said at least three of the four SSPX bishops were satisfied with the contents of the motu proprio, confirming that the Traditional Roman rite of Holy Mass (extraordinary form of the Roman rite) has never been abrogated. By interview time, he had not spoken to the fourth bishop, but said he expected that bishop to also be pleased with the document. “The Priestly Society of Saint Pius X extends its deep gratitude to the Sovereign Pontiff for this great spiritual benefit,” read a July 7, 2007 news release from the SSPX. The SSPX also released a more detailed letter to its Catholic lay faithful.[1]

Bishop Fellay said the document gave priests much more freedom to offer the Traditional rite “than any expectation” he had in advance. He also said that that the Holy See “consider(s) [the lifting of the decrees] of excommunication less difficult than the motu proprio.” This was communicated to Bishop Fellay in the accompanying letter of the motu proprio he received from Darío Cardinal Castrillón, Prefect of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

Cardinal Castrillón said in an interview with Il Giornale,With this motu proprio, the door is widely opened for a return of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X to full communion.”  

The document gives freedom to all Latin-rite priests to choose either missal in offering their daily Mass. While there are some restrictions on the celebration of the Mass publicly at a regular time, the Pope wrote that in parishes where there is a stable group of faithful desiring the Mass regularly, “the pastor should willingly accept their requests.” For Masses “without the people,” such Masses may be attended by the faithful who request to be admitted.

This document is the fulfillment of the first of the three preconditions of the SSPX before coming to a full canonical regularization with the Holy See. The second request is for the Holy See to rescind the decrees of excommunication, similar to the removal of excommunications for the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople by Pope Paul VI in 1965.

Bishop Fellay said the recently released Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith document, “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church,” only proved the necessity of the doctrinal discussions between the SSPX and the Holy See prior to a final practical canonical agreement. Bishop Fellay said that “this document… is telling us that a circle is a quadrangle.”

What seems to be at issue is the newer, post-Conciliar ecclesiology as the Church as “sacrament,” which defines Christians as having “degrees of unity” of communion with the Church instead of the more juridical understanding of “membership” in the Church and a Christian being “inside” or “outside” the Church. Bishop Fellay affirmed that the SSPX holds the pre-Conciliar theology.

The irony is that many Catholic bishops, priests and faithful who hold almost exclusively the sacramental ecclesiology are often those to claim the SSPX is “outside” the Church, while at the same time calling Protestants “separated brethren” and refusing to use the terms “schismatic” or “heretic” to those who are further away from the body, heart and soul of the Church. In other words, they will often engage in ecumenical events and worship services with those who don’t share the same Faith and sacraments and no ordained priesthood, but will be the first to warn Catholics against attending Mass at an SSPX chapel with other Catholics.

Q: Your Excellency. What is your personal reaction to the long-awaited and much anticipated motu proprio Summorum Pontificum? What is the general reaction you have heard from other Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) bishops and priests?

A: Since I have just returned from a trip, I haven’t heard much of anything. So I don’t have many reactions [from priests] yet.

However, I know that at least three of the four bishops are satisfied with the motu proprio. The other probably also, but I don’t know because I haven’t gotten his impression yet.

I would insist on two things. The first is the motu proprio itself. It is very clear that the motu proprio does open—much more than any expectation—the celebration of the Tridentine Mass and all of the previous liturgies. That is, not only the Mass, but the Breviary and the Rituale.

I think we have to salute and to greet this date and this motu proprio as a very significant historical event in the history of the Church and in post-Vatican II history. This has to be noted. I think it is very important.

Nevertheless, this does not mean it is perfect—especially when we link the motu proprio with the letter [to the bishops]. The letter is, if I may say it, the usual Vatican language. It is very unfortunate.

There are some interesting things in this letter like the quote where the Pope says the reason for his action is for an internal reconciliation within the Church; which means that we are not outside of the Church. That is very interesting.

But nevertheless, this letter has to be understood as a political letter which most surely does represent his personal thinking. Nevertheless, it is more than unfortunate in many ways, especially where he insists upon the necessity to recognize the value and the holiness of the New Mass. He plays both sides against each other. And the modern bishops that are progressive—they will jump on that point immediately trying to dismantle the motu proprio.

Q: With this first precondition met for the good of the Church overall—the freeing of the Traditional Mass—what is your outlook on the possible lifting of the decrees of excommunication against the SSPX bishops? Have you had any correspondence with the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei since January 2007?

A: I have had no conversations, no discussions and no relations. That is the first point.

The second point on the Roman side: as far as I know, they consider the [lifting of the decrees] of excommunication less difficult than the motu proprio. That’s the only answer I can give you.

Q: Your Excellency. This is quite surprising. What indication do you have from the Holy See that this is the case?

A: It is the word of Cardinal Castrillón [in the letter] when he sent me the motu proprio [the week before Summorum Pontificum was issued]. That is the first contact of the Cardinal with me since the 15th of November 2005.

Q: Do you believe the Holy See might possibly be awaiting a private letter or move by you on behalf of the SSPX requesting the lifting of the decrees of excommunication before they consider possible action?

A: I have no idea (chuckling). I don’t care about public or not public. Certainly, after this [freeing of the extraordinary Roman rite], there will certainly be an expectation of some contacts—definitely. But our line is very clear, so I don’t think there is much to expect new or surprising.

Q: Your Excellency, just to clarify: Based upon the letter you received last week from Cardinal Castrillón along with the motu proprio, was there any indication from the good Cardinal that he expected any follow-up action on the part of the Society?

A: No. It was just a very broad expectation that this would open the way to reconciliation, which can be understood in many ways.

Q: Just this morning, July 10, 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a document defining the meaning of subsistit in and the doctrinal development on the ecclesiology of the Church. The document is entitled, “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.”

The secular media is reacting like two nuclear bombs have gone off around the world within three days with the freeing of the Traditional Mass on Saturday, July 7, and today with the reaffirmation on the Catholic Church being the one, true Church, and the defects in the Orthodox Churches and Protestant ecclesial communities. This document seems to be geared specifically toward attempting to clarify some theological concerns with certain passages of the Second Vatican Council’s key documents. What is your initial reaction?

A: My reaction? In the declaration about the motu proprio, we insisted in saying that the confused excerpts of places in the letter show that the need to enter into theological discussions was reinforced very, very strongly by this document which is telling us that a circle is a quadrangle.

You have a perfect illustration of what we have said for 6 years. That is that Rome is continuing in a confusing way because they don’t seem to give much care to contradiction and non-contradiction.

This document seems to be a clarification of nothing but assuring once again that “Yes” means “No.”

Q: Your Excellency. Can you give us an example?

A: Sure. One example is precisely the question about subsistit. [The question is] “Why use the expression “subsistit in” and not “est”? You read the answer and you conclude nothing.

They say it is “est”and that there is an identity with the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church; and there is no change of doctrine. And then the next phrase is precisely a change in doctrine. So… It is a contradiction.

In his sermon in Ecône, Bishop Williamson said that in Rome they say something like two plus two makes four, but maybe it also makes five. And here you have a perfect illustration of that.

The only positive thing [in the document] is about the Protestants which are now barred from the title of Church. Great! [Ed. Note: This doctrine on Protestant “ecclesial communities” has already been outlined previously by Dominus Jesus and other authoritative Church doctrinal clarifications.]

Besides that, it is a confirmation of what we say. This text tries to tell us that there is no contradiction between the doctrine of the Church of the past and of Vatican II. And we insist by saying that Vatican II is in disharmony—is in contradiction—is even teaching error opposed to the traditional teaching, especially on ecumenism. And here [in this new document on ecclesiology] you have both sides put together; that is, the past and Vatican II.

Q: Two traditionalist priestly societies—most recently with the Institute of the Good Shepherd in France—and the apostolic administration of the priests of St. John Marie Vianney led by Bishop Fernando Rifan, have reconciled with the Holy See. The Holy See has allowed these traditionalist groups to continue to hold fast to the expressions of the Catholic Faith used prior to Vatican II, while accepting that Vatican II was a real and valid Ecumenical Council, while allowing constructive theological study on possible ambiguities in the documents. What keeps the SSPX from doing the same?

A: This text is a confirmation of all of our reproaches against the ambiguities of Vatican II and the post-Vatican II [documents]. It is a superb example of ambiguity and maybe it has never gone so far by trying to put together what cannot be put together; by pretending that there is no position which is a clear position.

So the question of the necessity of having doctrinal discussions prior to coming to any sort of practical agreement is very well documented in this new document [as an example]. It is a beautiful expression of the necessity, of the need and the importance of dealing with these matters before going any further.

Q: Archbishop Lefebvre signed all 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council. After the Council, he was very critical of the documents and even sent a dubia to the Holy See requesting clarification on religious liberty. However, Archbishop Lefebvre never rejected all the documents of the Second Vatican Council in totality.

A: And we don’t do so either. It is not a matter of rejecting or accepting.

The questions are, “Are these documents good? Are these documents nurturing the Faith? Are they good for the survival of the Church or not?”

And the more we go on, the more we see the ambiguities in the Council—which at a certain time seemed to be reconcilable to be correctly interpreted with Tradition, not including the very obvious errors—the further we go on, and the more we see that this is an impossible job.

Q: Your Excellency. Do you believe the destruction in the Church has been caused by not following the letter of the documents or by possible errors or ambiguities in the documents themselves?

A: I would say that not all of the documents, but most of them, are full of ambiguities. The more we study them, the more we see that according to the letter, you have these ambiguities.

Ambiguities mean that you have at least two ways to understand them or to interpret them. This is terribly damaging for a document that is supposed to be from the highest solemnity in the Church—a document which comes from an Ecumenical Council. It is a great tragedy.

These ambiguities, I must say, you find them almost everywhere. In addition to these three major errors of ecumenism, religious liberty and collegiality, you have all these ambiguities everywhere.

 It is not in the Catholic spirit. It is this modern, progressive spirit which has partly been condemned by Pope Benedict XVI, but which also basically and fundamentally has been approved by him. We’re going around in circles there.

And I must say once again, this document [“Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.”] is a perfect illustration of this ambiguity and of contradictory statements.

Q: Cardinal Castrillón’s Sunday, July 8, Il Giornale interview spoke specifically about the SSPX, saying the following:  “With this motu proprio, the door is widely opened [si spalanca la porta] for a return of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X to full communion. If, after this act, the return does not take place, I truly will not be able to comprehend. I wish to clarify, though, that the papal document has not been made for the Lefebvrists, but because the Pope is convinced of the need to underline that there is a continuity in the Tradition, and that in the Church one does not move forward by way of fractures. The ancient Mass has never been abolished nor forbidden.”[2] What is your reaction?

A: Certainly, this motu proprio is a step in our direction. It is most probably the will of Rome to answer to our first precondition. It is nice.

Is it enough to say, “We can now just go ahead?” Well, we can just look at this text published today [on the nature of the Church from the CDF] and you have the answer.

Look. It is a good step forward, but that does not mean that everything is solved. Absolutely not.

Q: In numerous public interviews over the past 2 years with both the secular and Catholic media, Cardinal Castrillón continues to repeat that the SSPX is not in formal schism, but that has unfortunately often fallen upon deaf ears with many Catholics within the Church.  What do you think motivates this new attitude?

A: It shows that Rome wants to end this apparent split in the Church. It is a thorn in their side because on the one side, they want to have unity.

They want to work all this ecumenism toward unity, but there is an apparent division within at the closest level. So how can you pretend to make unity with people who are outside when you are not capable of doing it with those who are inside?

It’s a contradiction. And so as they try to do this ecumenism; it is a duty for them to stop this interior division. Now the problem is that the means they use are much too superficial. It’s fine if they want to use these means, but it will not end the cause of it [the division].

Q: Your Excellency. What do you mean by “superficial”?

A: If you say, “Let’s sign a paper [a practical agreement],” that is superficial. Merely signing a paper is superficial.

If you say, “Let’s agree on a formula that is acceptable to both parties, but both continue to think their own ways, that is superficial.”

The real thing is when you agree on truth. That is not superficial.

Q: Some within the Church continue to state the SSPX is in schism; how do you answer to the following question?  When was the last time 6,000 schismatics prayed in Rome during the Year of the Jubilee in 2000? When was the last time schismatics sent a spiritual bouquet of 2.5 million rosaries to the Holy Father?

A: And we have an even better argument in the [Pope’s] letter that accompanies the motu proprio on the Mass where the Holy Father says it is an internal matter within the Catholic Church—in the Church.[3]

It clearly states that it is not about a schism. It is about an interior dispute which requires an interior reconciliation within the Church.

So we have it from the word of the boss. Our Pope says it is not a schism.

Q: Many Catholics who are enamored with solely using the newer ecclesiology of “partial” and “full” communion (and call Protestants our “separated brethren” and would never dare call them “schismatics” or “heretics”) are the same people who are the first to continue to call the SSPX “schismatics” and claim they are outside the Church.[4] But they use the pre-Conciliar juridical ecclesiology of “outside” and “inside” the Church while describing the SSPX, thus showing a notable inconsistency. Is there an irony here? Your thoughts on this, Your Excellency?

A: Exactly. For us, we still use the old weapons.

Q: In the CDF document clarifying the nature of the Church, in answer to a question about the use of the proper use of the term “Church” for the Eastern Orthodox, using the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism as a reference,[5] the following answer is provided: “It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature.”

Taking into account how explicitly positive and encouraging this text is for the celebration of the Eucharist (and by extension, the other sacraments) for the Eastern Church, which is not in full communion with the Holy See, nor believes all the dogma or morals of the Catholic Faith, isn’t it ironic that so many Catholic bishops, priests and laymen will not extend this same positive and charitable attitude to “the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord” when offered by priests who are within the Church and believe all its Faith and morals?  Can you imagine the majority of Catholics dutifully adhering to the following? “It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these SSPX chapels that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature.”  Is this but another irony?

A: Sure. You could say this is an ad hominem argument. I want to state that very precisely. We could very easily say that in the Society, we have the celebration of the Eucharist. We have apostolic succession. So definitely, according to that statement, we contribute to the edification and glorification of God. Definitely.

We are in the Catholic Church—period. We have never pretended to be an independent body [in other words, a separate “Church” in the sense used with the Eastern Orthodox].

Q: Do you have any closing remarks?

A: I think first of all, all of these documents should never be read just as an absolute. They have to be put in their context. The current context is that we still have a tragedy and a tremendous crisis in the Church.

And that means that even with something that tends toward the good that will definitely be for the good of the Church—like the document on the Mass—we cannot expect that suddenly things will be perfect. I don’t want to give any illusions.

So as we greet this courageous act of the Pope at this time, and we greet this great act. That’s the first step.  At the same time, that does not mean it is the end of the fight or the crisis. What is very important is to see how this document will be applied in reality.  Now that it has been said that the Mass has never been abrogated and that every priest has the right to say it; so, will they be able to? Practically speaking, who will care about granting this freedom and assuring this freedom of celebrating the Tridentine Mass? That will be very interesting. How will the bishops react?

I think this is very important for the future. If I may say here, this kind of fight is so overwhelming; the crusade of rosaries which we started and seems to bring some good fruits, has to be continued.

End Notes:


Dear Faithful,

The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007 re-establishes the Tridentine Mass in its legal right. In the text it is clearly acknowledged that it was never abrogated. And so fidelity to this Mass – for the sake of which so many priests and lay people have been persecuted, or even severely punished, for almost forty years – this fidelity was never disobedience. Today it is only right and just to thank Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre for having maintained us in this fidelity to the Mass of all times in the name of true obedience, and against all the abuses of power. Also there is no doubt that this recognition of the right of the traditional Mass is the fruit of the vast number of rosaries offered up to Our Lady during our Rosary Crusade last October; let us not forget now to express to her our gratitude.

 Beyond the re-establishment of the Mass of Saint Pius V in its legitimate right, it is important to study the concrete measures issued by the Motu Proprio and the justification given by Benedict XVI in the letter which accompanies the text:

 -       By right, the practical measures taken by the pope must enable the traditional liturgy – not only the Mass, but also the sacraments – to be celebrated normally. This is an immense spiritual benefit for the whole Church, for the priests and faithful who were hitherto paralyzed by the unjust authority of the bishops. However, in the coming months it remains to be seen how these measures will be applied in fact by the bishops and parish priests. For this reason, we will continue to pray for the pope so that he may remain firm following this courageous act.

-       The letter accompanying the Motu Proprio gives the pope’s reasons. The affirmation of the existence of one single rite under two forms – the ordinary and the extraordinary forms – of equal right, and especially the rejection of the exclusive celebration of the traditional liturgy, may, it is true, be interpreted as the expression of a political desire not to confront the Bishops’ Conferences which are openly opposed to any liberalization of the Tridentine Mass. But we may also see in this an expression of the "reform of the reform" desired by the pope himself, and in which, as he himself writes in this letter, the Mass of Saint Pius V and that of Paul VI would mutually enrich one another.

 In any event, there is in Benedict XVI the clear desire to re-affirm the continuity of Vatican II and the Mass which issued from it, with the bimillenial Tradition. This denial of a rupture caused by the last council – already shown in his address to the Curia on December 22, 2005 – shows that what is at stake in the debate between Rome and the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X is essentially doctrinal. For this reason, the undeniable step forward made by the Motu Proprio in the liturgical domain must be followed – after the withdrawal of the decree of excommunication – by theological discussions.

 The reference to Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of Saint Pius X made in the accompanying letter, as well as the acknowledgment of the testimony given by the young generations which are taking up the torch of Tradition, clearly show that our constancy to defend the lex orandi has been taken into account. With God’s help, we must continue the combat for the lex credendi, the combat for the faith, with the same firmness. 

Menzingen, July 7, 2007

+ Bernard Fellay

[2] Thanks to “New Catholic” at for the French to English translation.

[3] “We all know that, in the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level.”

“I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden.  This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.  I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide.  You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.  In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13).  Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject.  Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”

[4] Editor’s note: Compare the following address…

Fr. Jay Scott Newman, JCL, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C., asked the following question in this "Lecture Addressed to the Theological Students Association of The Catholic University of America," in Washington, D.C., in 2001. While it is clear that Fr. Newman did not have in mind the Society of St. Pius X situation when he authored this lecture, I believe its contents are instructive.

We must remember, that when Edward Cardinal Cassidy, the former prefect for Ecumenism, was questioned as to why theological dialogue did not take place regularly with the Society of St. Pius X if they were indeed in schism, Cardinal Cassidy replied that the situation was an "internal matter" of the Catholic Church. Fr. Newman opined:

"Expanding on the precept of St. Augustine that unless he persevere in charity, a Catholic can remain bound to the Church in body but not in heart, I wonder if it is not now possible to describe circumstances in which some non-Catholic Christians have a greater degree of fullness of communion with the one Church of Christ than do some Catholic Christians because of their stubborn refusal to believe doctrines of the faith which must be definitively held.

"I suspect that such a prospect is a logical consequence of the substantial newness of ecclesiology in Vatican II, namely, that one is not either in or out of the Church, but rather that all the baptized are joined in real communion with the Church by some degree of fullness. In other words, it is now clear that the road of communion with the Catholic Church by degrees of fullness is a two-way street."

… to this June 24 bulletin letter authored by the same priest.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Pope Benedict XVI has often written about the reforms of the sacred liturgy which began at the Second Vatican Council, and since his election to the papacy, there has been speculation that the new pope either would begin to make changes to our present liturgy or would make it easier for priests to use the old liturgy. In recent weeks there have been reports that the pope is preparing to publish a document about the Tridentine Mass, and when or if that document should ever be published, I will take great care to explain what it means for the liturgical life of the Church. For now, however, I write to warn you about a group of renegade bishops and priests who are leading people out of full communion with the Catholic Church in the name of the old liturgy.

In 1970, a French bishop named Marcel Lefebvre formed the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) as a group of priests dedicated to preserving the form of the Mass codified by the Council of Trent, and for five years, the SSPX functioned within the Catholic Church. In 1975, however, the Society lost its canonical standing, and in 1976 Marcel Lefebvre was suspended from all priestly faculties. For twelve years, authorities in Rome worked with Lefebvre to prevent a permanent rupture, but in 1988—against the specific instructions of Pope John Paul II—Marcel Lefebvre consecrated four bishops for the SSPX, and by that act both Lefebvre and all four new bishops were excommunicated. This was an act of schism, a grave offense against the unity of the Catholic Church, and from that day in 1988, the bishops and priests of the SSPX have been in a state of schism and have incurred the penalty of excommunication. Moreover, the Holy See has made it clear many times over that it is morally illicit for any Catholic to attend Mass celebrated by a priest of the SSPX or to receive any sacrament from one of these priests.

If the anticipated papal document is published, there will be considerable attention given in the media to the Tridentine Mass and to the Catholics who prefer to pray according to the Missal of 1962. And it is possible even now to participate lawfully in this Mass when it is celebrated with proper permission, as is done here in Greenville (sic: Taylors, SC) on the first Sunday of each month at Prince of Peace Church. There are even entire communities of priests within the Church which are dedicated to preserving the old Mass, and it is lawful to receive the sacraments from those priests. What is never lawful, though, is for Catholics to attend a Mass celebrated by a priest of the SSPX or to receive any sacraments from priests of the Society. The SSPX maintains chapels in Mt. Holly, NC and in Atlanta, and you may have heard of Catholics attending Mass in these places while offering a variety of bogus justifications for this disobedience. As your pastor, I must warn you that it is gravely immoral to participate in any way in these illicit and schismatic acts of worship, and I urge you in the Name of God not to do so or to encourage others to do so, even by your silence. Our constant goal must be to live and die in full communion with the Lord Jesus and His Holy Church, and that cannot be accomplished by acts of schism.

Father Newman